Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we ask that you would empower your word now. Cut us up that we might be living sacrifices holy and blameless. Separate the thoughts and intents of our hearts that we might be reconciled to our parents, to our children, to our siblings, and to all of our neighbors. Through Christ our Lord, Amen!
We begin a new chapter in the story of Trinity Reformed Church this morning. It is fitting for us to consider who we are and what we are called to as a body of believers. The great summary statement of our calling is the two great commandments which summarize all the law and the prophets: Love God and love your neighbor (Lk. 10:27). Pastor Leithart and I will be sharing the preaching duties over the next number of months, and while he continues to work through Matthew, I will be doing a topical series on a hodgepodge of issues related to family, community, and culture: toward a theology of other people.
Isolation is not Good
When God created Adam, he said that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Even though this is in the context of marriage, the principle is that two are better than one (Eccl. 4:9-12). All things being equal, it is better to be with people than not. And this is presupposed by the greatest commandments. There must be God and neighbor in order for us to carry out those commands. But these other people are not merely decorations; they are helpers (Gen. 2:18). The wise man says that there is a better reward when two work together on a project; woe to the one who is alone when he falls (Eccl. 4:10). Other people even keep us warm. They are comfort, courage, and strength against enemies (Eccl. 4:12). The common assumption that doing something “by yourself” is somehow more valuable is not true. It is more glorious to weather a storm with other people. Two are better than one; a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Who is my Neighbor?
A significant part of the story of the Good Samaritan is the answer to the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ The answer comes in the form of a story that reveals that your neighbor is the person right in front of you. Jesus says, ‘go and do likewise.’ Don’t make excuses; just do it. This means that proximity and opportunity are important aspects to answering this question. You do not have more responsibility for the needs you know nothing about. Nor do you have more responsibility for the needs you can do nothing about. This means that our neighbors must necessarily be prioritized (Pr. 27:10). Neighbors that are nearer in space and time are the neighbors that God wants us to love, honor, and cherish the most. This means that what your mother thinks is more important than something you read on a blog somewhere. The joyful obedience of your children is more important for you than following the latest diet fad.
Flee all forms of isolationism: it is not good for you to be alone. You need to love and be loved by these particular people: God has given you your spouse, your children, your parents, your elders, your co-workers, your neighbors. These other people are God’s good gifts to you (Eph. 4:4-12). They are your people, and your response needs to be gratitude because God promises to use them for your good. Do not act, speak, or think as though it would be better to be alone, to be free of these other people, free of their opinions, free of their challenges, free of their . Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). They are the neighbors that God has given you. And this is not because it is the easiest way; it is because it is the better way. It is not good for you to be alone because that is how God’s image is being revealed and perfected in you. Therefore, the first lesson toward a theology of other people is that you are not your own (1 Cor. 6:19, 12:13ff). And that is grace. So love them. Cherish their opinions, honor their methods, value their contributions. These are your people. This is your tradition. Embrace the grace that God is bestowing upon you.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty God, you sent your Spirit at Pentecost that we might be your renewed humanity, that our lives might be bound up together, hidden with you in Christ. Teach us to love other people; teach us to love the other people right in front of us, the ones that live with us, the ones that we talk to every day. And grant us these things as we pray as your Son taught us singing…